Same HR issues, different accents

British HR association promoting certification, seeking senior HR credibility

At about the same time the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations was launching its national HR designation, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development was officially given the right to award professional designations to members of the institute in the United Kingdom.

Unlike Canada, however, the British opted to create a multi-level membership and certification system so that senior level HR people could distinguish themselves from younger professionals. (For more on the debate over the need for a senior HR designation in Canada click on the related articles link on the bottom of this page.)

Though the institute has roots that go back more than 90 years, it only received recognition from the government as a professional body in 2000, said Judy Whittaker, director of membership and education.

Then, in October 2003, it was allowed to give “individual chartered status” to members who complete professional standards and have the requisite management experience.

“That’s really saying that, from the U.K.’s point of view, this profession has the same status as, say, accountants or the legal profession,” she said. Some of those professions have been around for hundreds of years and HR is much younger, but as far as the government is concerned, HR has the same status as any of them, she said.

But can people still practise HR without the designation? “Absolutely, and frankly we don’t anticipate or seek to change that,” she said. The nature of the profession is such that people come into it at different stages of their working lives and there will always be some people doing HR work who don’t want to join the institute or seek professional status.

However, the expectation is that more and more professionals will seek the credential and more employers will require it when hiring HR professionals. Today, of the more than 120,000 members of the institute, 39,000 have become chartered, a status that the institute promotes through direct mail, press and online communications. The institute also recently agreed to a deal with the Guardian newspaper to publish the names of those who have receive chartered membership.

Progress has been good and already about 60 per cent of all ads for HR positions either strongly recommend or require CIPD qualification, she said. However, as is the case in Canada, the institute is also struggling to appeal to experienced HR people even though a senior designation was created, she said.

“I think where we are not as strong as we would like to be is among senior people,” she said. They don’t feel the same need to take education programs or competence accreditation required to receive chartered status, she said.

The first level of charted status, “Chartered Member,” is for professionals who have completed the professional standards (a series of educational courses and assessments) with a minimum of three years of management experience. The second, “Chartered Fellow,” is for those with at least 10 years in management. The third, “Chartered Companion,” is an invitation-only category for people who have made unique contributions either to the profession or the institute itself, she said. It is a very select group not intended to be something HR professionals can necessarily work toward. The Fellow level was meant to be for experienced professionals who have reached a strategic level position in HR management.

CIPD has the ability to invite people into the Fellowship level, she said. “We make use of that, but limit it to a maximum of about 20 people a year. We don’t want to undermine the strength of our core standards. We need to keep it select, otherwise it wouldn’t work.” Instead, the institute is looking at developing programs that very senior people would find useful to make certification more appealing, she said. (Of the 39,000 with chartered status 28,992 have member status, 9,840 have fellow status and just 221 are companions.)

Aside from the membership and qualifications branch, the institute has two other business areas, she said. “We are trying to improve the way people are treated at work,” she said. To that end, the institute has a professional policy and research area that conducts independent research into people management.

Much of the research is provided to members free of charge through the CIPD’s comprehensive website. Regular seminars and journals also disseminate good and best practices, she said.

The third branch of the institute runs courses and conferences and publishes books. All income from this branch of the institute goes back into improving services and resources for members, she said.

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